California cities will soon be required to change the way they analyze transportation impacts for new development and transportation improvements under the California Environmental Quality Act.

In late November 2017, the California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released a final draft of new CEQA guidelines that would require cities to replace a narrow and outdated but widely used method for understanding transportation impacts: level of service (LOS).

This is great news.

It will help cities get a more accurate picture of development’s real effects on roads, transit systems, and bicycle and pedestrian conditions. OPR is recommending vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is simpler to calculate and measures regional impacts instead of just local impacts.

Nelson\Nygaard has been at the center of this statewide effort, helping to push for the legislation that triggered this change (SB 743), sharing feedback that has helped shape the final guidelines, and working with some of the major California cities that have already changed their practices.

We have been working for more than 20 years to change the way we measure the success of transportation investments, and our multimodal, people-centered approach is the answer.

We can help you comply with the law.

Your community will likely have until January 1, 2020 to comply with the new guidance so it’s time to think how your jurisdiction will respond. What is your community’s vision for the future?

What you need to do

  1. Engage with your community. This can be a wonky topic, but it is important to help people understand the implications of different approaches and how community values can inform what your jurisdiction measures. We have helped other cities translate abstract concepts into terms everyone can understand and build consensus.
  2. Choose performance metrics that align with community values. Whatever you choose, keep it simple. We understand the virtues, tradeoffs, and potential unintended consequences of different options. We also know how entitlement processes work in a range of California communities. CEQA is not a planning tool; there are ways to address transportation impacts through other parts of development review.
  3. Go through the legal process. We have been through the process with some early adopters, helping cities such as Oakland and San Jose gather findings, make administrative changes, and/or adopt new laws.
  4. Consider other complementary changes. Policy changes like adopting or amending your transportation impact fees, developing a transportation demand management program, and adjusting parking requirements can all help ensure that your city will achieve its goals for economic health, sustainability, and growth. Clear policies can create more certainty in your entitlement process, continue to hold developers accountable for their project’s effects on the transportation system, and work collaboratively with them to manage congestion.